A1.1.5 Continued…


The key observation here is that global and regional ecosystems function as the main climate regulators, both in releasing greenhouse gases (sources) and sequestrating them (sinks) and in other direct and indirect interactions with the climate.

  • Ecosystems currently absorb about half of anthropogenic CO2 emissions (oceans about 24% and land about 30%). The remaining amount is the addition to the atmospheric pool.
  • But ecosystem absorptive capacity is declining by about 1% per decade and is likely to decline more rapidly due to climate change and human impacts.


At the present time emissions due to human activity are increasing:

  • Current estimates put the annual global emissions of CO2 due to human activities at about 10 gigatons, of which about 1.5 Gt is from land use change (mainly deforestation).


The net effect is an increasing imbalance between emissions and absorption capacity. Therefore to achieve climate stabilisation there is need to manage all three components of the global carbon cycle, not just those resulting from fossil fuels and other human activities. The key problem is that only one component of the three-way balance is concentrated on as part of the post-2012 negotiations. The current policy is too focused on human based emissions. The risk of this situation is that regulating human based emissions will be insufficient to achieve climate stabilisation.

Examining the global carbon cycle suggests that whilst reducing emissions from human activity must form the basis of our stabilisation strategy it should not be the only part. Indeed there is no guarantee that significant reductions of anthropogenic emissions would on their own result in stabilisation.

According to World Resources, to achieve stabilisation (or climate resilience), there is need to balance the three components in ways that:

  • Maximise the global ecosystem capacity to absorb GHGs.
  • Minimise emissions from ecosystems (or at least be able to quantify what they are and understand how the processes work) and crucially.
  • Reduce emissions due to human activity.


There is need to balance many opposing demands and trade-offs within the socio-ecological systems. Human population is expanding and the expectation of an increasing number of people is for living standard improvement and material gain, placing additional demands on resource use. To achieve a balance there needs to be a shift in human expectations, aspirations and behaviour and immediate resource use.

At the same time it must be recognised that poverty alleviation is a primary objective. The aspirations of the poor need to be respected and support given to realise them, whilst on the other hand excessive resource consumption needs to be reduced in order to achieve suitable levels of equity and sustainability.

Ecosystems provide the essential basics for livelihood provision, particularly for the poor, whilst excessive resource demands from the wealthy cause ecosystem degradation.

We need people to change, but to do at people need to understand a clear rationale as to why change is needed. Therefore to make an effective change there is the need for new economic systems, societal level ethics and an ethos of collective responsibility, supported by an investment in education.